Having a large zoom lens is one of the things that beginning photographers seem to want more than any other feature. This desire makes a lot of sense. After all, there are times when you simply cannot move physically closer to your subject, and a large zoom gives you the chance to shoot a good photo.
Keep a couple of things in mind when you're looking for ultra zoom cameras, however. First, a point and shoot camera with a large zoom lens may be a bit more susceptible to camera shake, especially the closer to the maximum zoom you get. Second, you want to make sure the zoom number you're looking at is the optical zoom, not the digital zoom.
With that in mind, here are the best ultra zoom cameras I've seen in the market lately. For this list, ultra zoom cameras are considered those with at least a 18X optical zoom lens. (The cameras are listed in order from smallest to largest optical zoom lens.)
Nikon has paired style with a powerful 18X optical zoom lens in the Coolpix S9100 point and shoot camera.
You'll find a 12.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor with the S9100. The S9100's 3.0-inch high-resolution LCD screen is impressive, and this camera can shoot full 1080p HD video.
Nikon is offering the S9100 in three colors -- black, silver, or pink/red -- although a gold-colored S9100 is available in some parts of the world. Pairing this sharp-looking thin model with a big zoom lens is a nice combination.
Olympus has included the ability to shoot 720p HD video, to use WiFi to connect to a computer, and to shoot in a 3D photo mode, all of which are impressive features for this price range.
It also does a nice job with flash photos, which doesn't happen with every thin, point and shoot camera with a big zoom lens.
With its Cyber-shot DSC-HX300 camera, Sony has hit two interesting numbers that no other camera on the market has hit -- a 50X optical zoom lens and 20 megapixels of resolution.
Along side the 50X optical zoom lens, the Cyber-shot HX300 has a 3.0-inch LCD screen that tilts and can shoot at 1080p HD video resolution.
The Sony HX300's price may seem a bit high for a camera with a small image sensor. However, no one else can pair the 50-20 numbers that are found with the HX300.
Camera manufacturers have emphasized mid-range cameras that are pretty thin, yet offer a large number of nice features and a good optical zoom lens.
One of the better models you're going to find on the market right now is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300, which includes some really nice features in a camera that measures about 1.17 inches in thickness. The Sony WX300 has a 20X optical zoom lens, a 3.0-inch LCD, 18.2 of resolution, full 1080p HD video, and built-in Wi-Fi. Sony also claims the WX300 offers a very impressive battery life of up to 500 photos per charge.
Look for the Cyber-shot WX300 in red, black, or white camera bodies.
If you're someone who just can't decide between a point and shoot camera that provides great telephoto capabilities or one that can shoot wide angle images, Samsung may be ready to come to your rescue.
Samsung's recently released WB850F provides a 21X optical zoom lens, while it also can shoot at a wide angle of 23mm, providing photographers with the best of both worlds. In addition, it only measures a little over 1.3 inches in thickness, although the main portion of the camera body is less than an inch in depth.
The WB850F has a built-in WiFi capability, which is a nice feature for uploading a photo quickly to social networking sites, as well as built-in GPS.
The WB850F's other photography-related features include 16.2MP of resolution, a 3.0-inch high-resolution AMOLED screen, and full HD video capabilities.
It might be a pretty rare point and shoot camera where a feature like a 24X optical zoom lens isn't the headlining feature, but that seems to be the case with the Olympus SZ-30MR.
The SZ-30MR includes a 16MP CMOS image sensor, which reduces noise in low-light photos. You'll find a 3.0-inch LCD screen, and a camera body that measures only 1.6 inches in thickness.
Most impressively, however, the SZ-30MR can record 1080p HD video and 16MP still photos at the same time. This interesting camera carries a high price tag, but it has some high-end features to go with it.
7. GE X2600
Considering the sub-$200 price point for the GE X2600 ultra zoom camera, this is a bit of a different type of camera in this ultra zoom category. The image quality for the X2600 is above average versus other similarly priced cameras, and the 26X zoom lens is one of the largest you'll find in this price range.
The X2600 doesn't have any advanced features, such as a high-resolution LCD or built-in Wi-Fi, which would be a really nice option to find at under $200. Even with that in mind, the X2600 is an above average camera, both in terms of image sharpness, flash photo quality, and in its large zoom lens. There certainly are better long zoom cameras in the market, but if you have a strict budget to stick to, the X2600 would be a decent option for a beginning photographer looking for a first ultra zoom camera.
Few fixed-lens cameras can match the 30X optical zoom lens that Canon has included with the SX500 IS.
Canon included 16MP of resolution, a 3.0-inch LCD, and 720p HD video options with the SX500 IS. This camera is a large model that's only available in black, so be sure that you can work with a camera that measures more than 3 inches in thickness before you purchase this one.
Even though the Nikon Coolpix P520 looks a bit like a DSLR camera, it doesn't quite have that level of high-end photographic features.
Still, the Coolpix P520 has enough advanced features that it'll be well worth considering. The P520 has a 42X optical zoom lens, 18.1MP of resolution, a 3.2-inch articulated LCD, a built-in GPS unit, and full 1080p HD video recording. Those are all above-average features in a fixed-lens camera.
Nikon is offering this 2013 TIPA award-winning model in black, red, or dark gray camera bodies.
With an ultra zoom camera, a viewfinder is a great option to have. Fujifilm has paired a long zoom lens with a viewfinder in its now available FinePix S8400W camera.
The S8400W has a 44X optical zoom lens, full 1080/60i HD video capabilities, a 3.0-inch LCD screen, a 1-second start-up time, and 16MP of resolution. Fujifilm claims the S8400W can shoot macro photos from as close as 0.39 inches.
The FinePix S8400W, which runs from four AA batteries, is available in black.
Add another high-end fixed-lens camera to the mix this holiday season, as Canon is selling its PowerShot SX50 HS model.
The SX50 HS has a 12.1MP CMOS image sensor, full HD video capabilities, an articulated LCD that measures 2.8 inches diagonally, and Canon's High Sensitivity (HS) system designed for low-light photography.
However, the star feature of the SX50 HS is the 50X optical zoom lens, which carries an amazing 24mm to 1200 mm range. As far as I can decipher, the SX50 HS is one of the largest optical zoom lens on a fixed lens camera currently in the market.
Panasonic appears to have created the fixed-lens camera with the largest optical zoom measurement currently on the market in the Lumix FZ70.
The FZ70 features a 60X optical zoom lens (20-1200mm), which features a bit more of a wide angle capability than some of the other ultra zoom cameras listed here.
You'll find 16.1 megapixels of resolution, a 3.0-inch LCD, and full 1080p HD video capabilities in the Lumix FZ70, which is only available in black.